Ros Benson went from Simply The Best to taking care of the rest (of Picton)


“If you sell your house and I sell my boat, we could buy the lease on Furneaux Lodge,” Ros Benson’s partner said, after spotting a notice in the newspaper. The year was 1995.

Benson was a receptionist turned gun officer moonlighting two nights a week at the Kāpiti Boating Club as a bartender, trying to earn a little more for her son.

She had only been to the century-old Marlborough Sounds lodge once, on a sudden weekend with friends. Benson hung the sail on a rope in the middle of the night after the motorboat she was in hit a storm.

But she was “the adventurous type”, so it was no wonder she turned to her partner – when he suggested she buy Furneaux – and said “Alright then”.

Picton's wife Ros Benson retired from the Picton Emergency Operations Center Trust in August, 16 years after helping set it up.

SCOTT HAMMOND / STUFF

Picton’s wife Ros Benson retired from the Picton Emergency Operations Center Trust in August, 16 years after helping set it up.

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So began Benson’s life in Marlborough who, for three decades, saw her go from an isolated lodge owner to a water taxi revolutionary, then from a winter ball planner to a center administrator. emergency operations.

His partner at the time, “Partner Number Four”, was part of the Coast Guard and was the former bodyguard of New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. The couple cashed in their house and boat and moved into the then “very, very run down” lodge.

They revamped it, invented a way of working and hardened it over time. Benson’s early hours were spent preparing the restaurant for his morning rush of boats. Then she would work until 11 p.m. or 1 a.m. (changing with her partner every night), so clients see a face they know. Looking back, she joked that she was “probably the most grumpy Furneaux Lodge owner ever.”

Benson took over Furneaux Lodge in the late 1990s.

Provided

Benson took over Furneaux Lodge in the late 1990s.

“In a deserted place like this … a rule for one is a rule for all.” You cannot deviate from it because otherwise it will not work.

“We had a rule that you couldn’t bring boots inside Furneaux Lodge. You had to take them out and add them to the row, on the outside. There was a couple who came to the lodge with their dog. His name was Boots, so he had to sit outside.

Her life changed in the middle of 1997, when a “very, very rich fisherman” sailed through Endeavor Inlet, dropped anchor and headed for the bass. Freehold ownership of the lodge was on the market, and he said he wanted it.

“We couldn’t fight him because he was a millionaire. We were nobody. We just couldn’t afford to buy full ownership.

Five months after they left, Ben Smart and Olivia Hope went missing after spending New Years at Furneaux Lodge.

Benson and his partner “revolutionized” water taxi travel in Marlborough after opening West Bay Water Transport.

SCOTT HAMMOND / STUFF

Benson and his partner “revolutionized” water taxi travel in Marlborough after opening West Bay Water Transport.

Benson and his partner retreated to Picton, a small transportation hub connecting the northern and southern islands, where a water taxi business seemed a natural step forward.

It was named “West Bay Water Transport” after Endeavor Inlet, which was called West Bay at the time of Captain James Cook, but renamed several decades later.

Their first boat was a Naiad – a brand of workhorse preferred by coastguard crews in New Zealand because they could travel quickly, even in bad weather.

“His name was west bay. She had two outboards in the back of her and everyone was like, “It’s not going to go very fast. But we put her in the water and she became vroom.

It traveled three times faster than the boats used by West Bay Water Transport’s three competitors, reducing the once-long sailing between Picton and Torea Bay to 15 minutes.

“We revolutionized water taxis in Picton, basically, because no one was traveling at those speeds before,” Benson said.

Benson shows photos of the STB, the second boat in West Bay Water Transport's fleet.

SCOTT HAMMOND / STUFF

Benson shows photos of the STB, the second boat in West Bay Water Transport’s fleet.

One boat quickly became two. But, before the company got too big for its boots, it was bought out by a rival. west bay was sent north to Whakaari / White Island while the company’s second boat, STB, went to Queenstown.

Benson could only guess what had happened to west bay (“It probably wouldn’t have been used to save people during the White Island eruption”), but knew STB had been painted “bright orange” and used as a tour boat. The boat has been renamed Tina after Tina Turner, singer of the pop tube Simply the best, from which STB has been abbreviated.

Benson worked as a bartender at Toot N Whistle (later Cockles Kitchen And Bar, which closed) and his friends often came to visit him. She was speaking to a larger group of them than usual one night when someone said residents had little to do during the quieter winter months.

“So I said, ‘Why don’t we have a winter ball? “”

She already knew where to host it – in the ‘big, huge room’ on the top floor of the Picton Yacht Club Hotel, overlooking the Marlborough Sounds. Her friend, the owner of the hotel, agreed and on June 19, 2004, the city hosted its first “Christmas Ball”.

A year later, she had her second, this time “disguise”.

Benson grew up with a sense of charity, rising through the ranks of Girl Guides.

SCOTT HAMMOND / STUFF

Benson grew up with a sense of charity, rising through the ranks of Girl Guides.

By that time, its organizers – Benson included – had raised several thousand dollars and didn’t know what to do with it.

They noticed that the city’s only ambulance never left a storage shed on Market Street because its battery was often dead from non-use. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard had been given two years to leave the portable building where they were headquartered.

The two components came together in one idea: “Let’s build a common area for the Marlborough and St John coast guards”.

The friends created the Picton Emergency Operations Center Trust, with Benson sworn in as secretary. Five years later, when the Ogilvie-Lee Emergency Operations Center opened, she would see their dream come true.

But she remained in the trust for another decade – through a separation, two moves and her retirement from the workforce – before finally hanging up her hat in late August.

The Ogilvie-Lee Emergency Operations Center unites Marlborough Coastguard and St John in a central location in Picton.

SCOTT HAMMOND / STUFF

The Ogilvie-Lee Emergency Operations Center unites Marlborough Coastguard and St John in a central location in Picton.

“I have always strived to be charitable and do things to the best of my ability,” she said, tracing the cause back to her upbringing in Sussex, a large county in southeastern Australia. England.

Her mother, a pub owner, was a decorated captain of the Girl Guides, which encouraged young women to make the world a better place.

“Charity was just something I grew up with. “

Benson followed in his mother’s footsteps and, over time, collected his own collection of badges: First Brownie, then Guide, First Class Guide, and finally Guide Captain. She stuck the badges on a hat, next to her other accomplishments.

His favorite? A small silver medal speckled with age.

“I got it in the second 100-yard rush against Gordon Perry’s wife. He was the second man to run the ‘four minute mile’… I was probably about 14, and she was 18. ”

Do you have a history of the board that we don’t know about? Then email reporter Chloe Ranford at [email protected]


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